At first, I felt like an imposter.
There I was, reintroducing myself to my dusty, 10-year-old mountain bike during the mid-Sunday morning of Aug. 3, trying to fit in with the other bicyclists, joggers and walkers on the famous West Orange Trail. Many of them, it seemed, were in better condition than me.
It was my inaugural trip on the trail, something I finally would experience after living in the area for several months. Before the ride, I often had dreamed like a kid on Christmas Eve about the gifts the trail would provide.
With my tires rolling along the path’s smooth, 14-foot-wide pavement and up its gentle inclines, it didn’t take long to feel a sense of wonder that almost made me forget the burning sensation in my calves. It had been many months since I last rode my bike.
I started my first WOT journey at the Ingram Outpost, which is adjacent to Ingram and Clarcona-Ocoee roads in Ocoee and roughly the halfway point of the 22-mile-long trail. Heading west, I looped around the Forest Lake Golf Club, where I glanced at golfers who were experiencing their own form of recreational freedom on this sunny, 87-degree morning.
Next to the golf course, I cruised along a tall chain-link fence that curved at the top and served as a barrier between trail users and wayward golf balls. I imagined a fenceless scenario:
And then the thunk! of a ball striking my plastic helmet: not a pleasant thought.
Whizzzz: I then heard the real sound of a couple of other bicyclists flying by me. Decked out in matching outfits, they were riding what looked like expensive 10-speeds. The pair reminded me of Tour de France racers, who hardly ever stop pedaling.
Continuing west, the trail took me below State Road 429, then back out beneath the quiet sky. More bicyclists passed me. After being humbled again, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and instead focused on the trail’s beauty.
After all, at many places along the route, I experienced Mother Nature at her finest. There were sections of sweet-smelling woods, glimpses of birds and squirrels, and tree canopies that spread over the trail to form green tunnels. Those trees helped me enjoy a ton of clean air.
And the trail itself was in great shape and a joy to travel on. Many other people seem to agree, as the trail sees more than 150,000 visitors per month.
I pedaled past an Ocoee High School field where some kids were tossing a football. I then entered the Winter Garden city limits, where I made a U-turn at Fuller’s Cross Road. Nearby, I departed from my bike to take a 10-minute rest on a trailside bench, where I guzzled some water and laughed at a squirrel hunting for snacks.
Winding down, I suddenly acknowledged how sweaty I was. ‘This is a good workout,’ I thought. Just as importantly, I was having fun!
Soon, I hopped back on my bicycle to resume enjoying the exercise burn and changing scenery while heading east to my starting point. After finishing the trip, I estimated my total trail mileage at about eight miles. The overall journey had lasted a little more than an hour. To me, it was a respectable first effort.
I loaded my bike into my car and drove home with the A/C on, cooling down and feeling content for the moment, but hungry to explore another stretch of the West Orange Trail.